By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D, editor and chief

Student Centered Learning Thailand has always supported giving all Thai school children tablets to help them learn. Let’s look at some of the arguments on both sides.

The tablet is a useful learning tool for teachers; it is not a substitute for a teacher. What we are advocating for is what noted education philanthropist Eli Broad calls blended learning. By blended learning we mean using the best information and communication technology coupled with good teaching. The better the technology we use and the better the teacher is, the better the learning results will be.

There is a strong argument, however, that we really don’t need the latest and best technology in the classroom.  A good teacher is enough. And we know from extensive research that the single most important factor by far in getting good learning results rests with the teacher. The problem with this argument is it ignores the 21st century digital world we live in, a world where almost all literate people use digital technology to communicate
and to learn.

Initial learning results in Thailand where the tablet has been handed out to primary students and used by their teachers is good. Measurements of children using the computers has shown marked progress especially in Klong Toey in Bangkok.  Nevertheless, the jury is still out. Much depends on how the tablet and other technologies are used, what the content in the tablet is and how well the tablets will be used by the teachers. What we hope is that the tablet will be developed as a personalized learning tool so that the curriculum can be configured with the help of the teacher so each student can go at his or her own learning pace.

The teacher’s job, therefore, is not to dispense knowledge, but rather to help a child learn at his own pace. In sum, how well students will respond to learning using tablets as a tool will depend on how well the teacher is trained to use the tablet and how well the learning material is presented in the tablet

So this speaks to the need to have teachers thoroughly trained in how to use the tablet and use it to meet the individual needs of his or her students. There are many new programs that enable a teacher to monitor each student and also to organize learning activities for students on the same learning levels.  Without a teacher training program that is thorough in the use of the tablet, the risk of failure in using the tablet is substantial.

Secondly, we need the best minds designing the programs in order to hold the interest of students and move the students to use critical thinking in solving presented learning challenges and problems.  In short the tablet should not be used as just a machine to learn rote facts and figures.

What is exciting is that a well planned programing of the tablet can make the tablet an excellent and exciting guide through Thailand’s core curriculum for teachers, parents and students. Moreover, the programing can be carefully designed so it can be adjusted to fit every child’s need and level of learning.

For those of us who are strong advocates of student centered learning, the tablet can be a powerful tool in giving the teacher immediate feedback as to each individual’s mastery of a particular math or verbal skill.  It can enable a teacher to become a coach and mentor.  In using the tablets student work can be display on the teacher’s master tablet so that formative assessments of each member of the class can be made quickly and individual or group help on a particular problem in learning can be given.  Summative assesments can be quickly organized and calculated too so that scores on quizzes or test can be organized into reports for administrators and parents.

One major concern of those who are wary of bringing tablets into the class room is highlighted in studies conducted by Larry Rosen, a research psychologist at California
State University. His studies show that pre-teenagers and young adults focus for no more than five minutes before becoming distracted. Professor Rosen said that technology tends to overstimulate your brain. This over activation of the brain disturbs sleep cycles that prevent the mind from going into Default Mode Network (DMN) which is the higly creative state that happens between waking and sleep. Simply put, overuse of the tablet can be counterproductive.

There is the counter argument, however.  The tablet can be an effective tool that allow for a quick segue to another subject or problem or activity once the students are distracted and no longer concentrating on a particular activity.

Then there are those who decry the cost of the tablets at 3,000 to as much as 6,000 baht per tablet.  This argument of too high a cost pales when we measure the printing costs of the Ministry of Education for students throughout the Kingdom of Thailand.  Students no longer have to keep track of books for seven different subjects. Suffice to say that over a 1000 books can be kept on one tablet.

The big challenge is for teachers and educators to keep up with technology.  Thai youth are already enmeshed in technology to the point where mindless gaming has become a national problem.  The challenge for teachers and parents is to move the technology to real learning and making it fun.